Trans fats were created to mimic saturated fats’ ability to maintain a product’s solid form at room temperature without the adverse health effects of saturated fats. Saturated fats are found in meats and oils, such as palm oil. They are known to raise LDL (bad) cholesterol, therefore being associated with cardiovascular disease. It was a belief that if an alternative was made, it could be used without the health issues that are caused by saturated fats. Saturated fats remain solid at room temperature due to the saturation of hydrogen atoms within their molecular structure. Unsaturated fats are not fully saturated with hydrogen atoms and maintain a liquid form at room temperature. Trans fats were created by man adding hydrogen to an unsaturated fat. This gives it the same baking characteristics as a saturated fat. Trans fats also increase the shelf life, so the food item can stay on the shelf longer before expiring. Trans fats appear on the nutrition label as ‘hydrogenated’ or ‘partially hydrogenated’ oil. The problem is that unsaturated fats, such as canola oil, olive oil, and corn oil have a molecular structure of ‘cis’, which is recognized and used by the body. Trans fats have a ‘trans’ structure, which is not naturally used by the body and has actually been shown to increase LDL (bad) cholesterol and decrease HDL (good) cholesterol. This increases the risk for heart attacks and strokes more than saturated fats. Some studies also suggest that trans fats can increase the likelihood of cancer and type 2 diabetes.
Trans fats can be found in prepackaged bake goods, peanut butter, fast food restaurant items, fried foods margarine, microwave popcorn, and numerous other products. The FDA has required that trans fats be listed on all nutrition labels (excluding fast food items) as of January 1, 2006. There is still a problem. A product can boast that it has zero trans fats on the package but still have half a gram of trans fats per serving. So what can you do? Read labels and look for the words ‘hydrogenated’ or ‘partially hydrogenated’ in the ingredients. These are trans fats. Look at the serving size as well. If there are several servings in one container, it is very easy to compound the amount of trans fats without realizing it. It is good to limit the amount of saturated fats in your diet as well. Remember, when choosing your food at the grocery store it is easy to remember to shop along the perimeter of the store, with the exception of margarine, staying mostly away from the isles.
Yours In Health,
Sean Ripp, D.C.